When Danielle Dutton's Sprawl first broke upon the world in 2010, critics likened it to collage, a poetics of the suburbs, a literal unpacking of et cetera. This updated edition, reopens the space of Sprawl.
Imagine literally unpacking et cetera. This is what Dutton’s experimental novel, Sprawl, aspires to do. Sprawl is a double entendre—written in single sentences with no paragraph breaks whatsoever, its prose affects a sprawling internal monologue of a female protagonist; the title also locates the novel in the suburbs, which, like et cetera, could go on forever ... By trafficking in the narrator’s perceptions, the author shows storytelling to be a self-reflexive process of consciousness—the desire to construct narrative trumps even the absence of plot. If you read fiction for rich character development, a twisting-turning storyline, or closure, Sprawl is an unlikely choice. Dutton’s aim is more aesthetic than narrative: to show these all-too-familiar surroundings with startlingly new eyes. Tireless lists of the domestic environment, the vacuousness of suburban sprawl, the tension between extreme interiority and exteriority—these compel the reader of Sprawl, though at times the repetition is numbing.
The run-on text of Dutton's archly comic first novel forms, literally, a block of prose: the book itself is nearly square in shape, and the story consists of a single long paragraph ... This experimental novel is best read in a single sitting and, like the photographs that inspired it, can be viewed in any number of ways, with a different effect each time.
At the heart of Danielle Dutton's Sprawl is a lavish, endless list of domestic objects: water pitchers, sweaters, cakes on cake stands, petunias in a terra-cotta pot. Borrowing techniques from both fiction, poetry, and visual art (particularly photography), the book not only infuses each object, be it a juice glass or a paper napkin, with a Vermeeresque glow but arranges it into part of a verbal still life. The result? A fresh take on suburbia, one of reverence and skepticism.